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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Rule Changes - Serve

Rules were made to be broken, no, what???

The USAPA announced yesterday the availability of the 2018 USAPA\IFP Official Tournament Rulebook. The rulebook contains some significant changes that we will discuss over the next several weeks. We will start today with rules regarding the serve.

Service Motion

For the first time, the rules have defined the defined the service motion and, specifically when the service motion starts. From the definition section (Section 3):
Service Motion – Begins when the player’s arm moves to initiate the swing backward or forward to contact the ball.

Why should we care about this, though? It matters in refereed matches where the referee announces the score. The first two rules of The Serve section (Section 4) state:
4.A.1. The entire score must be called before the server begins his or her service motion. 
4.A.2. The service motion begins with the server’s arm movement initiating the swing, backward or forward, to contact the ball.
The prior version simply stated (in 4.I) "Serving before the score is called shall result in a fault, and loss of serve". This was often interpreted as allowing the player to begin his service motion while the score was being long as contact with the ball came after the complete score announcement. I covered this in Rules Clarification - When to Serve in a Refereed Match. 

The revision makes clear that the service motion cannot start until the score announcement is complete or the server will be faulted.

Let vs Point

A rare occurrence is the serve hitting the top of the net and then hitting an opponent before bouncing on the court. On those occasions when this happens, the outcome has changed. The previous rule stated this was a let and the serve should be replayed. 
Service Lets. The serve is a let and will be replayed if (4.F.3.) The served ball hits the net and strikes the receiver or the receiver’s partner.
The new rule states that this play results in a point for the serving team.
4.A.9. If the serve clears the net or hits the net and then touches the receiver or the receiver’s partner, it is a point for the serving team.

Underhand Defined

I saved this one for last because it has the single biggest potential impact (at least to me), but only if my interpretation is correct. I have had a couple of online conversations with other ambassadors where some agreed and others did not agree with my interpretation. But, if I am reading the tea leaves properly, the days of a weaponized serve may be numbered. I want to confirm it before stating definitively that is true. However, I will lay out the reasoning behind my thoughts.

The basic rules of the service motion have been reworded but the essence remains the same. From the revised rules:
4.A.5. The serve must be made with an underhand stroke whereby the server’s arm must be moving in an upward arc (see Figure 4-1). 
4.A.6. The paddle head must be below the server’s wrist when it strikes the ball. The highest point of the paddle head cannot be above the highest part of the wrist (where the wrist joint bends) (see Figure 4-1).

Figure 4-1

4.A.7. Contact with the ball is made below waist level (waist is defined as the navel level) (see Figure 4-1).
What has changed is the definition of "underhand". The previous definition:
"The arm must be moving in an upward arc and the paddle head shall be below the wrist when it strikes the ball (paddle head is that part of the paddle excluding handle. The highest point of the paddle head cannot be above any part of line formed where the wrist joint bends)".
The new definition states:
"The player’s arm must be moving in a forward and upward arc with the palm turned upward or downward".
The rulebook has no bolding. I added that in order to highlight the change. My interpretation of that phrase is that the service motion must resemble the bowling motion of the basic serve I described in Service Motion. This is the only motion that I can envision that meets the palm requirement.

This would take away the semi-sidearm serve I discussed in Reinventing my Game - The Serve. Many players have turned to this motion to add power and spin to their serve. But the palm is very difficult to get into an up or down position when serving sidearm.


  1. The January/February issue of usapa's magazine makes some comments about major revisions in the rulebook. On Page 48 (51 of online version) there is a note saying that the old rulebook was silent with regard to the palm, but that the language was added "...was to clarify that a backhand serve is legal".

    In my view, the 1/31/18 rule would have been better stated that the palm may face in any direction. Few backhand serves will be performed with a downward palm - it will almost certainly point toward their own hips or knee, but not toward their feet

  2. I agree. I am currently at the USAPA ambassador retreat where there was discussion on the rule changes this morning. The interpretation was clarified to exactly whta you stated. There was plenty of agreement, even among the USAPA officials, that the wording of the palm direction was poorly chosen. I will have an article soon about the entirety of the rules discussion.

  3. The addition of the "palm" language is unfortunate (and it wasn't even included in section 4.A. The Serve). Two of the other three rules concerning the service motion -- 4.A.6 and 4.A.7 -- have to do with paddle and ball position upon contact, while 4.A.5 requires that the arm must be traveling in an upward arc (as indeed it must if the ball is to clear the net). However, in any natural, legal service motion, the palm does not actually face upward or downward until well after the ball is struck -- that is, on the follow-through. At the moment of contact the palm, paddle handle, and paddle face are all nearly vertical (tilted just enough so that the ball clears the net). Thus, the only reasonable interpretation of rule 3.A.36 is that the palm must face upward or downward upon follow-through. It is possible to comply with all three of other other service-motion rules -- which permit quite a wide range of serves, including some that are quite sidearm-ish -- and still end up with the palm facing directly up or down: This is a rule that could be gamed and that will be devilishly difficult to judge! Looks like trouble for the USAPA.

  4. Given Christine's statement on 3.A.36, this begins to look like much ado about not very much.

  5. If a player serves into the wrong court and hits a player from the opposing team what is the ruing. The ball does not touch the net.

    1. It a fault for the receiving whenever either receiving team partner is hit with the serve before it bounces. In your scenario, the serving team wins the point if the ball hit the player before bouncing.

  6. 2019 Sec. 4.A.6 The Serve:
    Upon contact of the ball maybe correct,follow thru is not (side spin,) makes the ball go toward the side of the court. It's like bowling,start swing back, then at the end put spin to make the ball travel... I feel anytime a server put side spin and bends the wrist, head of paddle above the wrist should be a fault serve.

  7. 2019 Sec. 3.A.7 Double Hit
    It should be FAULT HIT. This way NO guessing whether it was....

  8. Is a side edge of the paddle considered head of the paddle if it's Above the wrist